Monday, August 17, 2015

My Secret Sister by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith

This is an interesting story of two English twins who were separated at birth and find each other about 50 years later.

One daughter, Jenny, is given up for adoption at about 6 weeks old; the other, Helen, is kept by her birth mother.  The early chapters alternate between the sisters as they tell the story of their childhood and growing up.  While Jenny is adopted by a loving family who dote on her, Helen's childhood with her neglectful, narcissistic mother and abusive father is horrific.  Not that Jenny doesn't suffer, her beloved adoptive father dies when she is young and she only finds out she is adopted when an angry cousin blurts it out.  Her mother refuses to talk about it even after she hears.

This is nothing, however, compared to Helen's life.  She is never touched unless she is being beaten, she is treated like a servant by her parents and though she has many friends and does well in school whenever she gets too comfortable she is uprooted by her parents.  She does have a loving grandmother and extended family but she is taken away from them too - and in the end learns they have been complicit in covering up the true story of her birth.

What is fascinating is the many coincidences in the girls' lives - they both suffer from fainting spells as teenagers, they both have many childhood illnesses and they both long for a sibling.  They probably cross paths at least twice too - once as children when Helen is playing on the beach near Jenny's summer cottage; another time as adults when Jenny has back surgery and Helen is the nurse to her surgeon.  They also share a remarkable strength of character.

Later in the book we learn how Jenny searched for her sister and eventually found her - Helen had absolutely no idea she had a sister.  We then see how they piece together their shared past from discussions with cousins who remember a little from childhood (by then the adults who knew the truth were all dead), DNA tests and countless searches through medical and adoption records.

While not necessarily a literary masterpiece this is certainly an entertaining weekend's read.

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